Anne Dudley, composer

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

One or two moments really stand out: 

~ playing Stravinsky’s Symphony in C in the RCM Junior Orchestra (I was a clarinettist)

~ seeing Earth, Wind and Fire live in concert before they became mega famous

~ hearing Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’ on the radio, also Kraftwerk’s ‘Autobahn’ and John Adams’  ‘The Chairman Dances’.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?

The constant downgrading of the value of music.  TV and Film companies seem to want to pay less now than 20 years ago.  It’s quite common for composers to be asked to pitch for work for no money at all and even when they get the job, the budgets are pitiful and companies expect to own the publishing rights.

I’m also mystified and a bit saddened by the apparent demise of the CD. It’s a robust format and the best sound quality you can get in a home setting.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

A blank page can be daunting. I was recently commissioned to write a piece for a choir with a completely open brief. This meant I also had to find a text. In the end I really enjoyed the challenge and learnt lots of poetry that I didn’t know before and I think I found a really good theme for the piece. It is easier if you’re given a theme or a subject.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working for the big/small screen?

There’s no blank page!  The film itself gives you a structure for the music.  Every film or TV programme is different, giving one the chance to explore different ideas and styles of music.  There’s also a whole load of new people to work with on the production side and the pleasure of seeing the finished article on TV or the big screen and knowing that thousands of people are hearing your music.

In terms of challenges – there’s no right or wrong way to do things and there could be many different ways to interpret the style of a film musically.  Also, directors and producers sometimes don’t have the vocabulary to talk about music and find it difficult to convey their thoughts.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles or orchestras?

If you already know a musician or a particular orchestra, some of the initial tension of composing a new piece is already gone.  It’s a question of communication – one can be direct and open.  I’ve also had the pleasure of working a few times with Joshua Bell and Steven Isserlis and many times with the BBC Concert Orchestra (I was their first Composer-in Association).

Of which works are you most proud?

Tricky question – all of them and none of them!  It actually has to be the one that I’m working on at the time.  You need a degree of self-belief to keep going – composing is actually quite hard work.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Tonal (mostly) with occasional flourishes of minimalism and dissonance, a touch of English pastoralism, a love of counterpoint.

How do you work?

Mostly at my piano and always in my head.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I feel it’s an achievement in itself to make a living out of something you love.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Total commitment.  Keep learning –and failure can teach you as much as success.  Try not to be self-effacing – have confidence in yourself.  I know it’s easier to say than to do.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

I sometimes feel that classical concerts are somehow lacking in ‘showbiz’.  I hate it when orchestras wander on to stage one at a time and start chatting to their neighbours and noodling on their instruments before the concert begins.  Stage lighting could be more dramatic if players were willing to have lighted stands.  The Aurora Orchestra playing from memory is electrifying.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My piano – of course!

‘Crossing the Bar’, Anne Dudley’s new album of works for piano and strings, is released on 29 April 2022 on the Buffalo Music Ltd label.

Composer, arranger, producer and performer, Anne Dudley is a multi-talented and critically acclaimed musician. 

She has composed and produced soundtracks for dozens of award-winning films and television shows, including The Full Monty, American History X, Les Miserables, Kavanagh QC and Poldark, and was a founding member of 1980s pop trio The Art of Noise.

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